Jewel Beth Davis and
Michelle Wallace

Inspired by Delicate by Michelle Wallace

By Jewel Beth Davis

“I won’t cross it,” Junie told the boy. “And you can’t make me.”
“No, you’re right. I can’t make you,” Jem said. “But I can leave you here. And if I do, one way or another, the fire or the demons or the animals will get you.”
She knew he spoke the truth but she was terrified. Far beneath them was a pulsing river of flames through which demons that were half human, half animal crawled. Stretched ahead of them was a thick brown rope that traveled from solid ground where they stood to solid ground again on the far side of the ravine. How far it was, she wasn’t sure, but it was farther than she could throw a stone. She bent down and picked up a stone near her feet and flung it as hard as she possibly could. It flew about halfway across, then plunged down, down, disappearing into the abyss. She heard screams and howls as the stone hit. Just looking down took her breath away and made her skin prickle. At eleven, Junie was already learning that sometimes there were no good choices in life.
“We can’t go back,” Jem said. He sounded sad. “There’s nothing left back there. The city is destroyed. Fires are wiping out the forests. The roads are flooded.”
Terrible things were happening across the world. Everyone she knew was either dead or missing. She was completely alone. Except for Jem. Jem was not her friend, just a neighbor boy who lived next door. They went to the same middle school but he was in the grade ahead of her. The only time he’d spoken to her before this was to demand she return his ball that was always flying over the hedges into her yard. He never said thank you or please, just, “Throw it back over, will you?” Or, “Hey, the ball!”
Still, when he saw her sobbing and wringing her hands outside her burning shell of a home, he grabbed her hand and said, “Come on. We have to go. Now.”
What had happened she wasn’t sure but meteors had struck the earth repeatedly, in thousands of places. They took out the satellites, the utilities grids, and eventually everyone had lost Internet, television, and finally, power. Fires burned out of control. There weren’t enough emergency personnel in the world to control the fires and devastation. In the midst of all this, survivors began to see humanoid creatures crawling everywhere looking for the dead or dying to devour. Then, frightened animals came charging out of the woods and swamps, rampaging. They weren’t behaving in ways Junie had ever seen before. She didn’t blame them. Either was she.
Junie could feel the blackness of night and evil creeping up on them, surrounding them. Her heart pounded and fear overpowered her. She wondered if Jem felt the same. But he was a boy. Boys hid their feelings.
She took a deep breath hoping for some relief of the pressure she was experiencing but the air was filled with smoke and her lungs and throat clogged. The only familiar comforting signs that remained unchanged were the stars glowing white against the black velvet sky. She wanted so badly to go back to the familiar. Back to her home, to her parents, and her room. Back to feeling safe again. But the world had changed in ways that no one could fix and was no longer a safe place. As far as she knew, she and Jem were alone. Their parents, their families were gone. She gazed up at the heavens. If the only things that remained unchanged were the stars, then she would have to put her faith in them.
Jem was pacing, apparently waiting for her to make up her mind. But there was no decision to be made. She either had to move forward despite the risks or give up and jump into the chasm. Or she could always stay put until the fire or the animals caught up to her. She’d probably die any way but she wanted to be the kind of girl who tried. Folly. The rope was folly. Sometimes folly was a good thing.
“Fine,” she told Jem. “But I’m no acrobat so how do you expect me to walk that rope without falling?”
“Believe me, I’m not either. I don’t have any answers for you.” He studied the rope. “Are you strong enough to swing hand-to-hand? You know, like the monkey bars at the playground.”
Junie shook her head. “My hands won’t fit all the way around the rope. It’s so thick.”
“I’d let you hang onto me while I climbed but I don’t think I’m strong enough to make it across with both our weights. Then both of us would be lost.” He gulped at the thought. Jem was a year older and was a wiry boy but not muscular. Junie knew he was being honest. She was lucky he was here with her at all. He could have taken off. Left her behind. He didn’t owe her anything. He didn’t even like her. Her expression softened.
“No, I know. Neither of us is that strong. There has to be another way.”
“Well, we don’t have any tools or weapons and no time to find anything that might help. I’m going to try something but we’d better hurry. The flames are getting higher all the time,” Jem said. Traces of soot streaked his face. “I’m going to hold on to the rope underneath with both my arms and my legs. I’ll skootch along bit by bit. Then you can follow me.” He looked across the length of the chasm and a small sigh escaped his lips. “I just hope my arms holds out.”
She reached out to him. “Please.”
Please what? Junie knew he couldn’t stay with her but once he started across, she’d be completely alone. Anything could happen. Something could come up behind her. Or Jem could fall off the rope. Oh, not that. She couldn’t bear to watch him fall to that terrible end. He reached for her hand and squeezed it. At times, he seemed to be able to read her thoughts. Perhaps he didn’t dislike her as much as she’d thought.
He proceeded to position himself on the thick hemp, feet first wrapped around the rope from underneath, then his arms. He moved slowly, carefully forward until he was completely suspended over the ravine, the flames not far below. The sound of the screeching demons floated up to them, piercing her core. How she wished she could turn that sound off or tune them out. What she wouldn’t give now for earplugs. It’s strange how your desires could change so much depending on circumstances. She looked up at the stars and tried to focus on them. When she looked at Jem again, he was making progress but very slowly.
She felt isolated. He was closer to the midway point than to her on this side. Still his plan was working. She just didn’t know if she could follow his actions and be successful. What resources did she have? She wasn’t strong or agile. Her balance was mediocre at best. What had she learned during her life that would help her? She couldn’t think. Her heart felt as though it would fly out of her body. She was dizzy. Her breath was quick and raspy. Her ears rang. Her vision blurred. Everything was out of control.
“Junie, now you,” Jem called. His voice echoed and sounded far away. With effort, she pulled her attention back to Jem and the rope. He’d made it all the way across to the other side. He might as well be on another world rather than just a few hundred yards away. Her heart skittered.
Now her. What would happen if she fell into that writhing pile of demons? What would they do to her? Maybe she’d already be dead from the impact? Stop it. She had to focus.
Junie directed her gaze at the luminescent stars and the heavens cushioning them. She felt centered and balanced as she looked at them. She would follow the stars to the other side. She would take a leap of faith. Or at least a step of faith.
“Junie?” Jem called.
Remembering the poem her mother read to her at bedtime, she began. “Starlight, star bright, first star I see tonight. I wish I may. I wish I might…
“I’m coming,” she said. And she took her first step onto the rope.

One Comment

  1. Posted October 31, 2010 at 2:02 am | #

    Wow, Jewel! What a great story, so captivating. I felt like I was right there with her. Thanks for doing such a great job!